A Synthesis of the Immigration and Refugee Legal Aid Research
Immigration and refugee legal aid services are provided by legal aid plans in six provinces in Canada: British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, and Newfoundland. Under these plans, the vast majority of legal aid is provided to refugees (as opposed to immigrants). All six legal aid plans provide full legal aid services at hearings and appeals - the points in the process where the risk to a claimant's "security of the person" is highest. Legal aid services provided during other stages in the process vary from province to province.
NGOs are another important source of legal services for immigrants and refugees. In general, NGOs tend to provide these services along with other, non-legal, settlement-related services (for example, health or housing related services). NGOs generally seek to provide services not offered by the provincial or territorial legal aid plan. Therefore, in provinces with extensive legal aid coverage, NGOs provide fewer legal services, whereas in provinces with little or no legal aid coverage, they provide a wide range of legal services. NGOs face two key constraints in providing services to refugees. The first is that many are not mandated to address the needs of asylum refugee claimants and the second is an overall lack of funding for their activities.
The research indicates that most refugee claimants will require some assistance at all stages of the immigration and refugee determination process. However, assistance does not necessarily imply representation by a lawyer. In general, respondents believed that the need for representation by a lawyer was directly related to the complexity of the legal issues involved and the potential for impact on a claimant's "security of the person". Other options put forward by respondents were to provide some legal services through supervised paralegals or through NGOs. With respect to service provision by NGOs, respondents pointed out that effective service provision would require better funding and the establishment of improved linkages between NGOs and legal aid plans.
A number of factors were identified that affect the cost of providing refugee legal aid services, including the number of refugee claims, the impact of the IRPA, lack of understanding of the process among refugees, interpretation and translation, and the number of leave for judicial review applications. Legal aid plans have little control over most of these cost drivers. Therefore, reducing the cost of service provision would require either reducing the level of services provided or making use of alternative service delivery mechanisms.
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